“‘God Said to Abraham’: Can Bob Dylan Help Us (Re-)Read the Bible?” World of Bob Dylan 2023, June 2023, Tulsa, OK.

BY Jeffrey S. Lamp, Oral Roberts University


Framing the present discussion

To fans of Bob Dylan the words are familiar, perhaps more familiar than the biblical text from which the opening verse of “Highway 61” finds its inspiration.

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe says, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God say, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe says, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God says, “Out on Highway 61”[1]

Compare this to the passage in Genesis 22:1–3, a portion of the story known in both Jewish and Christian circles as the “Aqedah,” or “Binding,” of Isaac, and the degree to which Dylan interprets the story becomes quite evident.

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and his son Isaac; he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and set out and went to the place in the distance that God had shown him.[2]

To the casual observer, there are a number of differences between the two accounts that become even more evident when the sonics of the song are taken into account. The song opens with a circus-like sound, a siren whistle confronting the listener at the beginning of the song and between verses. Dylan’s vocal performance contributes to the absurdist humor of the song that intensifies lyrically with each succeeding verse. Clearly Dylan’s reception of the biblical story is not the stuff of serious academic biblical commentary. Or is it?

Interpretations of the song are legion, each detail having been scoured for its significance. The present discussion will not contribute to this body of thought, but rather ask another question, one that directs our attention to the reverse order in which such investigations proceed. Rather than ask, “What does Bob Dylan do with Genesis 22:1–3 in his song ‘Highway 61’?,” we will ask, “Is there any way in which Dylan’s use of the passage helps us as Bible readers see this passage afresh, with new eyes, freed from the perhaps cherished vague reminiscences of the passage that often cloud our perception of what the passage is really saying?”

In more recent biblical studies, the methodology of “reception exegesis” has become more widespread as a hermeneutical tool of biblical interpreters.[3] In contrast with its more well- known sibling, “reception history,” reception exegesis asks whether a particular reception of a biblical passage, especially in popular media or artistic receptions of biblical passages, may drive us back to the biblical texts themselves to see if those receptions offer insights that might relieve us from over-familiarity with passages and lead us to a fresh appraisal of the biblical texts in their own contexts. In this discussion, then, we will bypass the typical discussions of the history of interpretation, which ask how more theological, academic, or liturgical treatments of biblical texts have unfolded, and of reception history, which expand the discussion to see how other more popular and artistic treatments have appropriated biblical texts. Rather, we will focus on reception exegesis, and ask whether or not these more artistic treatments might direct us back to the texts in such a way as to ask new questions of familiar passages and perhaps yield new insights into those passages.

So for the purpose at hand, does Dylan’s use of Genesis 22:1–3 in “Highway 61” help us understand the Aqedah better? The contention of this paper is that Genesis 22:1–3 has a history of interpretation that fairly consistently understands Abraham’s response to God in a positive light, as a response that demonstrates an extraordinary degree of faithful obedience. This is true in both Jewish and Christian theological circles up to the present day. But there has been a minority, though persistent, point of view that sees this more traditional, positive history of interpretation as deficient, as concealing a deeper biblical appraisal of the episode. And in the words of the first verse of “Highway 61” Bob Dylan’s reception of Genesis 22:1–3 opens up a fresh (re-)reading of the passage.


A tale of two tellings

Whatever Dylan’s intentions for including this biblical episode into his song, the listener is immediately confronted with a couple of sonic sensations as the song begins. As noted earlier, the music has a circus-like feel to it, highlighted by the sound of a siren whistle. The effect here is comedic, giving a sense of playfulness to the song. Then Dylan begins singing, assaulting the listener with his acerbic vocalization of the opening line, “Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son!’” Right away Dylan plays his hand. The opening verse will provide his commentary on the biblical episode in surreal and absurd tones. This is clearly not the reverence with which the Bible is often approached, especially as concerns this passage. God is shown as making a very stark demand – “Kill me a son!” Using the diminutive “Abe,” Dylan presents Abraham’s response not in the tone with which he typically responds to God in biblical texts with such words as, “Here am I.” No, Abe responds incredulously, “Man, you must be putting me on.” When God confirms he is quite serious about this demand, Abe protests, “What?” Here Dylan depicts God as threatening retribution should Abe not comply, to which Abe finally responds in resignation, “Where do you want this killing done?” With God’s answer of “Highway 61,” Dylan’s interpretation comes to a close.

To say there are discrepancies in the two accounts is understatement. One gets the sense that Dylan has serious issues with this biblical story as evidenced in his terse, unnuanced presentation of it. Something is just not right with this story. Dylan’s performance of the opening verse, apart from lyrical considerations, betrays a sense of absurdity in the whole scene. To be sure, many modern thinkers have shared such an opinion of this passage on a variety of grounds. Common to many such reactions to the story is the ethical objection of a deity demanding the sacrifice of a human being’s child. Does this not amount to a power play from one party over another party to commit a heinous act of child abuse?

Making the passage all the more perplexing is the subsequent traditional interpretations of both Jewish and Christian commentators that laud Abraham’s unquestioning obedience to God’s command. Abraham becomes the prototype of absolute obedience. Moreover, Isaac, in his unquestioning acceptance of his father’s plan to sacrifice him becomes the exemplar of submission to the divine will. In fact, in his submission Isaac becomes both the prototype for Jewish martyrs, especially in the Maccabean Revolt, and the template for Jesus’ own sacrifice of himself in submission to God’s will.[4]

Bob Dylan is not among those who take this traditional tack. There is something wrong here. And Dylan’s interpretation, in these few words, highlights several issues that make the traditional interpretation unpalatable to many, and in doing so, opens us up to other possible interpretations. We will take a look at these features of Dylan’s interpretation in light of a recent monograph by Christian Old Testament scholar J. Richard Middleton on the Aqedah titled Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God.

Middleton’s examination of the Aqedah proceeds by looking first at the positive evaluation of Abraham’s actions in the passage in ancient Jewish and Christian sources. The tyranny of such interpretations was so complete that in the early centuries of the Common Era Jewish Rabbis issued prohibitions against any type of protest against the actions of God, an attitude also reflected in early Christian writings.[5] Middleton’s point of departure for his study is an appeal to Scripture itself. This is strategically vital for Middleton’s argument that there is another approach possible in assessing what is going on in Genesis 22. He takes a reverential approach to God, taking seriously the dynamics of the divine-human relationship, but arguing that Scripture is replete with examples of those who contested with God. He takes this approach by addressing some current Jewish and Christian assertions that negative assessments of the Aqedah proceed from modern sensibilities that were simply not in play in the timeframe of both the Aqedah and subsequent ancient interpreters.[6] Agreeing with these sentiments, Middleton sets out to provide a fresh reading of the Aqedah by reading it in its scriptural context, both in terms of the larger narrative of Abraham found in Genesis and in connection with another biblical book, Job. And we will see that Middleton’s reading is the type of reading that is suggested by hearing Dylan’s words in the opening verse of “Highway 61.”

The first line of the song, in which God demands Abraham kill his son, is Dylan’s casting of the line in Genesis 22:2: “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” Dylan’s framing is that of an imperative, a demand. But Middleton notes that English translations such as the one offered here obscure an important detail. God’s command is tempered somewhat by the presence of the Hebrew particle na’, which in this usage should be rendered as something like, “please,” framing the statement more as an entreaty than an outright command.[7] As most English translations, which omit this word entirely, read, it is a less stark presentation of the way Dylan frames the command, but it is essentially the same kind of command as Dylan presents it. But here the Hebrew text offers a clue that might challenge us to reassess what is going on in this passage.

On a related note, Dylan’s characterization of Isaac as “a son” is a blunting of how God describes Isaac to Abraham in Genesis 22:2. God commands Abraham to take, please, “your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love” and go offer him as a burnt offering. In the biblical text the son is identified by his name, Isaac, with the qualifiers that he is Abraham’s son, his only son, and that Isaac is a son whom Abraham loves. These qualifiers might seem unnecessary, but they serve to show Abraham’s relationship to Isaac. He is not just “a son”; God describes the relationship as close and intimate. Middleton sees here a clue that suggests this episode is not just a test to demonstrate Abraham’s obedience.[8]

The second line of the song is perhaps Dylan’s greatest challenge to reread the story: “Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on.’” As Middleton’s book title suggests, the greatest scandal of the passage is that Abraham is silent at this request. In the whole episode in Genesis, Abraham never verbally addresses God about the request. Dylan shows Abe as actually responding verbally to God’s demand. Not only that, Abe is shown questioning God’s request in terms that indicate that Abe is not on the same page as God here. Why is this such a scandalous observation?

Two episodes earlier in the story of Abraham illustrate the issue. First, in Genesis 18, God has determined to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah and to tell Abraham of his plan to do so. Once he has been told of God’s plan, Abraham enters into an extended discussion with God highlighting God’s mercy and justice and that surely God would not destroy the city were there to be righteous people present in those cities (vv. 23–33). So Abraham asks God if he would spare the city were there to be 50 righteous people there. God responds that he will not destroy it for the sake of 50. This pattern repeats with Abraham asking about 45, 40, 30, 20, and finally 10. God responds after each request that he would not destroy the city. Abraham seems content with God’s concession of 10 righteous, and the discussion ends with God and Abraham parting ways. Why Abraham did not go further is a question the author of Genesis does not answer. This detail will detain us later. For now, it is noteworthy that Abraham would intercede on behalf of hypothetically righteous strangers and not for his own son.

A similar incident occurs in Genesis 21 regarding Ishmael, Abraham’s son born of Hagar, a slave of Abraham’s wife Sarah. In Genesis 16, after God had promised an heir to the couple in their old age and 10 years having passed with Sarah having no children, Sarah pressured Abraham to have a child through Hagar. In Genesis 17, when God again affirms that Sarah would bear Abraham a son, Abraham beseeches God to let Ishmael be his heir given the ages of Abraham and Sarah (vv. 18, 20). God again promises an heir will be born through Sarah (v. 15–16, 19). Once Isaac is born and has grown some, she sees Isaac and Ishmael playing with each other and becomes angered, urging Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Abraham is distressed at this request (21:8–10). And though the text does not show Abraham interceding for this mother and child at this point, as he did in ch. 17, God comes to reassure Abraham that even though the great nation promised to Abraham would come through Isaac, Ishmael would also become a great nation (Gen 21:12–13). The point here is that Abraham is shown displaying love and concern for his son Ishmael, emotions that Abraham is not depicted as experiencing in the text of Genesis 22:1–3. Dylan’s Abe is shown having at least enough concern for Isaac that he questions God’s demand. Again, in the biblical account Abraham is silent.

Another detail in Dylan’s telling, connected to his depiction of an Abe that engages God on this matter, is that Abe solicits from God the location of this killing. In the Genesis account, God tells Abraham that he is sending him to the land of Moriah to sacrifice Isaac on “one of the mountains that I shall show you.” But God in Dylan’s account says the location is Highway 61. Brian Walsh succinctly describes the significance of Highway 61 in the context of the song, musical history, and Dylan’s career:

All through the song the invitation is to Highway 61, and while no one in the song ever goes there, it is consistently a site of murder, sorrow, betrayal, even of a third world war. This is the blues highway, where Robert Johnson made his bargain with the Devil; the route up the Mississippi from New Orleans to Chicago for African American migration, and from Duluth to the blues for Bob Dylan.[9]

Highway 61 is a location of hardship, despair, the stuff of the blues. There is no redemption, no hope, here. In the Bible, however, Moriah, specifically the mountain on which the “sacrifice” of Isaac was enacted, is a place that is identified as the eventual location of Solomon’s temple (2 Chron 3:1), the symbol of God’s presence with Israel. It is the place of worship, of hope. In Dylan’s portrayal, however, the location of the killing is not a place of “sacrifice,” a term laden with implications of restored relationship between God and human beings. It is simply one of a series of instances where despair is found.

At virtually every point, though there are similarities between Genesis 22:1–3 and the first verse of “Highway 61,” Dylan’s telling of the event challenges the positive evaluation of the episode in Jewish and Christian traditions. Dylan’s verse depicts the command for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac in ways that highlight the absurdity of the scene. Middleton, for his part, agrees with Dylan’s sentiment and seeks for clues in the text that suggest another way to read the passage, one that itself challenges the positive interpretive hegemony of traditional understandings of the passage, doing so in terms that take seriously the biblical context of the passage. At this stage, we see that Middleton thinks that the passage in context itself suggests another way to read it. The next section of this paper will look at what Middleton thinks the passage might suggest Abraham should have done when God confronts him with this demand.


What should Abraham have done?

Dylan, for his part, shows us what the answer is: Abraham should have done as Abe did and challenge God’s request. Of course, Dylan recognizes that in reality his Abe apparently does as Abraham did in Genesis 22. That is just how the story goes. But in Dylan’s telling, Abe at least goes down swinging. Not so in Genesis. And Middleton, for his part, agrees. Abraham should have challenged God. Whereas Dylan does not explicitly state the grounds on which Abe questions God, implicitly he does so because something just sounds wrong here. Again, Middleton agrees, but he will go on to explain why and how Abraham should have questioned God, and he finds the grounds in the Bible itself.

Middleton argues that the Genesis text is signaling in the details we have recounted here that God may have indeed been testing Abraham, but not in the sense traditionally affirmed.[10] After all, the Genesis passage opens with the words, “After these things God tested Abraham” (Gen 22:1). Middleton affirms that yes, indeed, there is a test here. But unlike the history of interpretation asserts, the test is not whether Abraham would exhibit absolute, unquestioned obedience to the divine will. Rather, the test is whether Abraham would rightly discern what kind of God his God truly is.[11] If Abraham is going to follow God faithfully, he must know who this God is. Up to this point in the narrative of Abraham, God has provided opportunities for Abraham to discern this, but Abraham has fallen short of right discernment. The two episodes we observed above attest to this. First, God had promised Abraham an heir through whom all families on earth would be blessed (Gen 17:19; cf. 12:2; 15:4), but Abraham acquiesced to his wife Sarah’s demand that he father a child through Hagar. In this, Abraham chose to ignore God’s promise and choose another way, a way that introduced huge ramifications for both his family and the history of his descendants. Second, Abraham did indeed challenge God’s stated plan to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, appealing to God’s mercy and justice in gaining concessions that God would not destroy the cities were there to be found a requisite number of righteous inhabitants. Abraham “negotiates” down to 10 as the standard, rightly assessing that God is indeed merciful and just, but then inexplicably stops there and does not dare to lower the number to 1![12] So Abraham here does exhibit a right discernment on who his God is, but fails to assess the extent to which this God is merciful and just.

Fast forward to Genesis 22, and God apparently has decided to give Abraham one final, ultimate test. Would Abraham rightly discern God’s character? The most extreme test is presented, the sacrifice of his only son, the one through whom God would fulfill his promise to Abraham to become a nation as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore. And here, Abraham is silent! And this even after God has provided hints as to how Abraham should respond. God affirms Abraham loves Isaac, and has even framed his request with the word “please.” Yet Abraham proceeds without question to fulfill God’s request. He goes so far as to raise the knife above Isaac to kill him, and at this stage God, through an angel, stops him and has him sacrifice a ram that has been trapped in a thicket (Gen 22:9–13). The New Testament provides a positive take on this scene, attributing to Abraham a belief that God could raise the dead were he to have killed Isaac (Heb 11:17–19). And in Genesis, God affirms that he will fulfill his promises to Abraham because he showed that he would not spare his only son (Gen 22:15–18). Thus the positive assessment of the episode in Jewish and Christian traditions.

So does Abraham pass the test? Middleton acknowledges that Abraham passed the test of unquestioned obedience, but also states that this is not a quality that God actually asks of his followers.[13] The Aqedah itself, in its concluding verse, gives a clue that passing this type of test actually proved extremely costly. In Genesis 22:19, it states, “So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer- sheba.” No mention is made that Isaac came back down the mountain with him. There appears to be a breach in the relationship between Abraham and Isaac. But this is not all.

Indeed, as Genesis 23:1–2 indicates, when Sarah died, Abraham went from his home in Beer-Sheba to the place where Sarah died, Hebron.[14] Many believe that this indicates that Abraham and Sarah were estranged. To be sure, the circumstances of their marriage seem strained as indicated by the whole drama concerning Sarah and Hagar as well as the fact that the text of Genesis does not indicate that Abraham conferred with Sarah beforehand about his plan to sacrifice Isaac. Moreover, Isaac seems to have been living apart from Abraham, in the Negeb (Gen 24:62), at the time Abraham secured a wife for him. And the remainder of the story of Abraham’s descendants in Genesis shows all sorts of familial discord, with the sibling rivalry between Isaac’s sons Esau and Jacob in part fostered by Isaac’s wife, Rebekah (Gen 27:1–40), and the strife between the sons of Jacob, the key event being the selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers (Gen 37:12–36).[15]

Middleton suggests that this is related to Abraham’s failure to discern what kind of God his God is.[16] Middleton points to Genesis 18:19, where Abraham is told that he must pass on to his descendants what kind of God this God is. So what kind of God does Isaac see in Abraham’s attempt to sacrifice Isaac? Could the lessons learned in Moriah have shaped the subsequent history of Isaac and in turn Jacob?[17]

Of course, we cannot know what the course of events might have been had Abraham challenged God. That is not how the story worked out. But here we see Middleton looking at the biblical context of the Aqedah to offer a rereading of the episode. He does not offer his alternative from the perspective of modern sensibilities; he looks to the text for clues for an alternative understanding of the passage.

There is another level of biblical context to which Middleton appeals. It is not enough to suggest Abraham should have done something other than he did. What might Abraham have done? Of course, as we have indicated, he could have done something he already did, which is to question God as he did regarding the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here Middleton examines at length various scriptural evidence that God appreciates, indeed encourages, those who will challenge him in covenantal relationship. He examines a category of psalms known as “lament” psalms, in which complaints are raised to God over the suffering that the people of God are experiencing in an attitude of trust in God’s faithfulness to his covenant.[18] Moses offers passionate intercession on behalf of the Israelites after God has vowed to destroy them for their unfaithfulness.[19] Most dramatic is Job’s lengthy questioning of God in light of his personal suffering.[20] The appeal to Job is most poignant in this respect because in Jewish tradition there is a connection made between the stories of Abraham and Job (Jubilees 17– 18).[21] Middleton suggests that the book of Job may serve as a corrective to Abraham’s behavior in the Aqedah, showing that protest of one who trusts in God is appropriate.[22] Though God does chastise Job for the actual substance of some of his complaint questioning God’s justice (Job 38–39), he does indicate that Job’s tack is nevertheless valid, as indicated in Job 40–41, and that ultimately Job has spoken correctly (Job 42:7). These biblical examples constitute what Middleton calls “vigorous prayer” as the response of the faithful to God in times of personal suffering and distress.[23]

The great Jewish thinker Elie Wiesel perhaps sums up best what Middleton is arguing in his response to a question as to whether it is even appropriate anymore to talk about God in light of the horrors of Auschwitz:

I do not believe that we can talk about God; we can only – as Kafka said – talk to God. It depends on who is talking. What I try to do is speak to God. Even when I speak against God, I speak to God. And even if I am angry at God, I try to show God my anger. But even that is a profession, not a denial of God.

One of the most serious questions I have confronted over the years is whether one can still believe in God after Auschwitz. It was not easy to keep faith. Nevertheless, I can say that, despite all the difficulties and obstacles, I have never abandoned God. I had tremendous problems with God, and still do. Therefore, I protest against God. Sometimes I bring God before the bench. Nevertheless, everything I do is done from within faith and not from outside. If one believes in God one can say anything to God. One can be angry at God, one can praise God, one can demand things of God. Above all, one can demand justice of God.[24]

It is not enough to state that Abraham should have done something else. There needs to be some justification to suggest such. Middleton’s approach is to show that Abraham should have done so – indeed had previously done so – in light of the biblical context in which his story occurs. Middleton has persuasively suggested that the biblical context of Abraham’s own story and the larger context of the Bible has provided ample justification for his argument. And in arguing this way, Middleton has shown that Dylan was on to something in his take on the story.



Reading the Bible from within a long tradition of interpretation can dull our senses to the biblical texts themselves as we have become familiar, even overfamiliar, with what we have received. Sometimes something comes along that jars us as recipients of those traditions, presenting us with takes that drive us back to the texts to read them once again, and in that process, the stimuli that brought us back to the texts help us see something new. Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61” does just that with the familiar story of the Aqedah.

In our study here we compared the presentations of Dylan and Genesis to identify points of divergence that cause us to re-examine the biblical story in its own context. In this process, we engaged J. Richard Middleton’s provocative study of the Aqedah and in it found a reading of the text that broke from traditional interpretations of the story and did so in terms that resonated with Dylan’s depiction. Interestingly, in his book Middleton never referenced “Highway 61.”[25] We simply identified Middleton’s reading as one that might eventuate if one started with Dylan’s presentation and read the biblical text in that light. Middleton’s study, placing the Aqedah as it does within its larger biblical context, shows that tradition does not always exhaust interpretive possibilities. Sometimes we just need a push to make us look at familiar stories anew.

Maybe Isaac is not the only one sent to die on “Highway 61.” Maybe interpretive tyrannies go there to die as well.


Works Cited

Cohen, Leonard, “The Story of Isaac.” Track 2 on Songs from a Room.

Columbia Records, 1969.

Cohen, Leonard, “You Want It Darker.” Track 1 on You Want It Darker.

Columbia Records, 2016.

Dylan, Bob, “Highway 61.” Track 7 on Highway 61 Revisited. Warner Bros., 1965.

Ellis, Nicholas J. “The Reception of Jobraham Narratives in Jewish Thought.” In Authoritative

Texts and Reception History: Aspects and Approaches, edited by Dan Batovici and Kristin de

Troyer, 214–40. Leiden: Brill, 2016

Kalmenson, Mendel. “Where Was Abraham at the Time of Sarah’s Death?” Chabad.org,


Lamp, Jeffrey S. Reading Green: Tactical Considerations for Reading the Bible Ecologically.

New York: Peter Lang, 2017.

Levenson, Jon D. The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child

Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993.

Middleton, J. Richard. Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How

to Talk Back to God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021.

Moberly, R. W. L. “Abraham and God in Genesis 22.” In The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A

Study of Abraham and Jesus, 71–131. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

Schuster, Ekkehard, and Reinhold Boschert-Kimmig. Hope against Hope: Johann Baptist Metz

and Elie Wiesel Speak Out on the Holocaust. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999.

van Bekkum, Wout Jac. “The Aqedah and Its Interpretations in Midrash and Piyyut.” In The

Sacrifice of Isaac: The Aqedah (Genesis 22) and Its Interpretations, edited by Edward

Noort and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, 86–95. Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2002.

Walsh, Brian. “Taking Abraham to Highway 61.” Canadian-American Theological Review 11

(2022): 7–11.


[1] Bob Dylan, “Highway 61,” track 7 on Highway 61 Revisited, Warner Bros., 1965.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

[3] For a summary of reception exegesis, see Jeffrey S. Lamp, Reading Green: Tactical Considerations for Reading the Bible Ecologically (New York: Peter Lang, 2017), 77–81, and the literature cited there.

[4] J. Richard Middleton, Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2021), 137–40, 142–44, 148–49, 160–63; Wout Jac. van Bekkum, “The Aqedah and Its Interpretations in Midrash and Piyyut,” in The Sacrifice of Isaac: The Aqedah (Genesis 22) and Its Interpretations, eds. Edward Noort and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2002), 86–95.

[5] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 147–49.

[6] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 140–44. See also Jon D. Levenson, The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993); R. W. L. Moberly, “Abraham and God in Genesis 22,” in The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 71–131.

[7] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 154. Middleton places this in his own translation of the passage (167).

[8] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 171–73. Middleton suggests that the duration of the trip to Moriah may have given Abraham time to meditate on his feelings for Isaac and thus be motivated to intercede for him (176).

[9] Brian Walsh, “Taking Abraham to Highway 61,” Canadian-American Theological Review 11 (2022): 8.

[10] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 181.

[11] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 197.

[12] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 203.

[13] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 197.

[14] In Jewish rabbinic tradition, there are attempts to cast these details in such a way as to circumvent the implications of the biblical text and to show that Abraham and Sarah lived together at the time of her death. See Mendel Kalmenson, “Where Was Abraham at the Time of Sarah’s Death?” Chabad.org,


[15] Genesis 25–50 rehearse the story of Jacob and his sons, highlighting many instances of family dysfunction (Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 208–9).

[16] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 197, 203–6.

[17] Middleton (Abraham’s Silence, 209–11) addresses these questions in a rather dismal tone. He argues that Gen 31:42, 53 show how Isaac is understood in connection with God, with God characterized as the “God of Abraham,” whereas God is characterized as the “fear of Isaac” (213).

[18] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, ch. 1.

[19] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, ch. 2.

[20] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, chs. 3–4.

[21] So close has been the connection between Abraham and Job that Nicholas J. Ellis coined the term “Jobraham” to illustrate it (Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 183). See Nicholas J. Ellis, “The Reception of Jobraham Narratives in Jewish Thought,” in Authoritative Texts and Reception History: Aspects and Approaches, eds. Dan Batovici and Kristin de Troyer (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 214–40.

[22] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 167, 183–90. Middleton even calls Job a “subversive sequel” to the Aqedah (189).

[23] Middleton, Abraham’s Silence, 63.

[24] Ekkehard Schuster and Reinhold Boschert-Kimmig, Hope against Hope: Johann Baptist Metz and Elie Wiesel Speak Out on the Holocaust (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1999), 91–92.

[25] He did, however, mention a Leonard Cohen song, “The Story of Isaac” (track 2 on Songs from a Room, Columbia Records, 1969), that critiqued American fathers sending their sons to the Vietnam War. Middleton (Abraham’s Silence, 144) notes that the Aqedah was used as a justification for fathers in Israel to send their sons to war in the Six-Day War (1967). Middleton also cites a later Cohen song, “You Want It Darker” (track 1 on You Want It Darker, Columbia Records, 2016), that uses the Aqedah to frame a prayer to God.